Irish looking for starters on offensive line

<P>The Irish will have to replace four starters along the offensive line this spring. Jordan Black, Sean Mahan, Jeff Faine and Brennan Curtin will all need to be replaced leaving only Sean Milligan as the returning starter. Will the staff be able to find these starters by the end of spring? </P>

Your guess is probably as good as mine. The Irish need some players to step up this year or they will struggle again on offense. Not only will the staff have to find four starters, they will have to find some reserves that can give some quality minutes in case of injury.

Sean Milligan has not received the kind of praise that Jeff Faine has but he has been a steady performer for the last two years. He plays physical and he does get some push off the line. He was also one of the best pass blockers last year. Milligan has battled an ankle injury the past two years and hopefully that is behind him with some rest. The Irish will need his leadership and his help to get some of these young linemen ready to play. Milligan should be set for a fine senior season.

Jim Molinaro should be the starter at left tackle. Molinaro came in and did a nice job in spot duty or as a starter last year. Molinaro played a lot of different positions last year and should be a solid starter for Notre Dame this year. He could even be an improvement for all we know. Molinaro moved from the defensive line a couple of years ago but has developed into a solid offensive lineman.

Dan Stevenson will likely be the starter at right tackle. Stevenson is a nasty player who likes to mix it up. Stevenson did a nice job as a third guard and moving to right tackle when Curtin was suspended. He could become one of the better linemen the Irish have had in quite some time.

The other guard position will be wide open. I will guess Mark LeVoir and Darrin Mitchell will compete for that starting spot. Others could also enter into the picture here. LeVoir was considered a top prospect in the 2001 class and should be physically ready to play. Mitchell impressed me in the limited time I saw him last year. He fired off the ball and got into his man. This should be an interesting race and hopefully the spot is settled in the spring.

Center will also be interesting. Bob Morton and Zach Giles should battle for this starting position. Morton had a knee injury, which limited his development and Giles was considered a top prospect in the 2001 class. Morton was considered the top center prospect in the country for the 2002 class. Neither player has experience so both will need to mature quickly. I don't expect this position to be settled until the fall.

The Irish have a host of other prospects that could make an impact. Matt Root is an interesting prospect because he is being moved from tight end and should add some athleticism to the tackle position. If he can pick up the technique quickly, he could become a player to watch in the future.

James Bonelli, Scott Raridon and Jamie Ryan are freshmen and didn't see any playing time this year and will have 4 years left. Brian Mattes was a defensive lineman last year but has been moved to the offensive line and could develop into a player like Molinaro. We probably won't know much about these players until the fall.

Notre Dame did sign two players in the 2003 class—Ryan Harris and John Sullivan. I don't expect either to make an impact as it's very rare for any freshman offensive lineman to be physically and mentally ready to play right away. Both possess a lot of potential but will take time to develop physically and grasp the technique necessary to play.

So why are the Irish in this position? The Irish failed to sign a single offensive lineman in the 2000 recruiting class. They lack starters and depth because they didn't sign anyone. If they had signed some, these players would be in their 4th year with likely two years of eligibility remaining.

The Irish now have to rely on Giles, LeVoir, Stevenson and Mitchell to become starters and key reserves probably before most are ready to start. This is why balance in recruiting classes is important, especially along the offensive line. It takes considerable time for a young player to develop the strength and understand the technique to be able to contribute.

The staff has to hope that some of these young players step up this spring and the fall. They will need to find two quality starters at left guard and center and they will need to find some quality reserves at each spot to give the starters some rest or to be able to play in the event of an injury.

Say a few prayers Irish fans because these players have to step up or the Irish will struggle on offense. Every other position on offense should be strong but to make this offense successful, they will need a good offensive line.

I expect Notre Dame to sign at least four offensive linemen next year because they only signed two this year. Offensive line will be a priority in recruiting next year and hopefully they will sign four great prospects to go with the two talented prospects this year.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories